I’ve never been of the bra burning mindset, nor particularly interested in advocating government intervention (interference). Still, I need to give a nod to legislation passed 25 years ago this month. While there was a lot in the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 that has government spending allocations flowing to questionably effective programs, it was time to draw the line on lending practices that required women to have a male co-signer.
I spent seven years as a NAWBO board member (at the local chapter level) while being rather involved on the national level. It started with my appointment as a White House Conference on Small Business Delegate in 1994 for the 1995 event. Once I landed in Washington, D.C., I realized NAWBO was the best organized, thoughtful and prepared group to influence decisions. Terry Neese headed the coalition. She’s still a dynamo (and friend) today.
Few members saw the big picture. In fact, I recall a good number of chapter board debates arguing the merits of ceding nation organization affiliation (and associated costs). What NAWBO was doing nationally was landmark. Pushing through such legislation stands as one of these accomplishments.
I started Fulcrum Communications in 1989 – after this legislation was passed – but have still endured lender middlemen (including car salesmen – are you kidding me?) who have asked to schedule an additional appointment with my husband to finalize the paperwork, ‘honey’. My credit then (and imagine it still is now) was better than any of the family men in my life. I was happy to take my business elsewhere rather than succumb to the assumption my husband or father would be necessary co-signers.
Making wrong assumptions about your best small business prospects can hurt prosperity
These guys did dumb things to lose their commission (or job benchmark notches). They weren’t being intentionally insulting or malicious, just thoughtless. Little did they know they almost landed a dream client. I had the four Cs (OK, maybe not collateral at a younger age – but that’s not typically a concern with car loans or lines of credit) and then some. They knew (thought) I was sold on their offering, but assumed my role was as decision maker, not money man.
It’s easy to think you know who you’re talking to. Often, you don’t. The only way to ensure you’re offering the right solutions for the needs of your prospect is to ask questions. Anyone who starts with a pitch before finding out the concerns of the prospect is destined to lose.
While there’s tons of template (and manipulate) selling questions out there, the only way to confirm what you have to offer will be good for the person you’re addressing is to customize what you say based on what you hear. Oddly, while everyone seems to be preaching relationship selling these days, few are practicing it.
You can make your mark as a responsive small business owner in a big way by simply listening before you launch. Sometimes the right answer is ‘I know a better provider for what you need’. You’ll be amazed at the referral business you get from clients you turn away by offering a better alternative. That takes guts that prospects remember.
Other times, what you thought they needed is very different from what they express. By providing solutions based on what the client reveals you can land a contract that would have been lost with a standardized pitch.
Your best small business prospects may not be who you think. The only way to know what they need is by encouraging them to talk while you listen.
The Huffington Post ran a short story on the anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 if you’re interested (this article includes some additional useful links).